Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thailand-- A Bad Vacation Destination This Year. Mali Rules


Headlines all over the world-- from Russia, Spain and the U.K. to Japan, China and Australia-- are talking about 100,000 tourists stranded by Thailand's political unrest. Last week on my travel blog, I told the story about a friend of Roland's who was emigrating to Thailand from Los Angeles and how he was dumped off on Taiwan. He's now made it to Bangkok, via Vietnam, and is happily using free wifi in his new apartment not far from Lumpini Park.

I hope he stays indoors, as violence in beginning to ramp up against anti-govenment demonstrators who have seized both Bangkok's airports and the prime minister's office. The protesters "have vowed to remain at Suvarnabhumi, which is a major international airport, along with the domestic Don Muang airport and the Government House, the country's top administrative center, until Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat steps down.
Thailand's vital tourism sector could lose more than $4 billion over the remainder of the year, officials estimate, and as many as 2 million tourists are expected to cancel plans to visit the "Land of Smiles." The national carrier, Thai Airways, is reportedly losing $14 million a day.

The government Thursday declared a state of emergency at the two airports and threatened to remove the protesters by force. But the next day, Somchai removed the chief of police for failing to move on the demonstrators. By late Friday, police were in position outside both airports, but no violence was reported.

The government has pledged to resolve the crisis peacefully, and the People's Alliance for Democracy has vowed to "fight to the death."

On Bangkok's Khao San Road, a legendary "backpackers' ghetto," concerns over lost luggage and reluctant insurers were rampant Saturday. Travel agencies, Internet cafes and barrooms were abuzz with complaints, mostly lamenting a lack of credible information and limited travel options.

It's uncomfortable and inconvenient for tourists in one of the world's most tourist-friendly and safest exotic destinations. But it's far worse for the Thais, even apart from their fragile economy taking a catastrophic hit. It doesn't look like this standoff is going to end without major deadly violence.

Western news sources have been describing the government as "populist" but it's an illegitimate right-wing kind of populism headed by the brother-in-law of corrupt former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who has fled Justice and is living in a palace in Britain. Talks are getting nowhere. Aside from military intervention-- either a coup or an attack on the protesters-- another way out of the crisis could be a ruling by a constitutional court looking at campaign fraud cases against the government, something we covered, from Thailand a week shy of a year ago. Although the L.A. Times posits that the court could stir up even more problems than it solves.
A ruling against the government and its allies, which would be welcomed by demonstrators who have seized two major airports to press for Somchai's ouster, is likely to provoke counter-protests from his supporters.

Pro-government leaders, who call their movement the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship, suggested at a rally Sunday that the court was conspiring with the opposition by moving up the date for a ruling. They have threatened to drive the opposition from the airports if police fail to do so.

Many Thais, who don't fall into either the yellow-shirted opposition alliance or the red-shirted camp backing Somchai's government, suffer through their country's continued political instability.

For months now, each apparent solution has ushered in a new crisis, and more bloodshed. Grenade attacks on anti-government demonstrators are almost a daily event, and tensions are growing as rival camps threaten to assault each other and rumors of an impending coup spread.


Monday's NY Times is reporting that the demonstrators have effected a change in tactics which focuses more on the airports and less on the prime minister's office. There are approximately 300,000 stranded tourists and Thailand's economy is down by $2-3 billion. Airlines have started flying tourists out of the country through other airports.


Blue America 2006 Candidate Update


Donna Edwards (D-MD), 2008's biggest winner

A number of people have asked me how Blue America's 2006 candidates did this year. The short answer is that they did pretty well. First off, each of our winning candidates from 2006 has won re-election. That includes the ones we re-endorsed, the ones we felt were strong enough to win without our help, the ones who we were neutral on and the one member, Chris Carney, who we worked to defeat.

In 2006 Donna Edwards lost a closely contested primary against corrupt hack Al Wynn. Many observers are certain that he managed to steal that election. He went on to win re-election in the general with 82% but lost the primary in 2008 to Donna (by a substantial margin), then resigned to become a lobbyist, giving Donna a leg up on all other congressional newcomers. This time she did even better than Wynn did in the general, taking a hefty 86% of the vote (252,524, the highest numbers of any Democrat running for the House in a contested election, even edging out Hoyer and Van Hollen in Maryland)! Bring that up next time someone tells you it's a center-right nation.

We had two candidates in California last cycle, Charlie Brown and Jerry McNerney. Jerry edged out Dirty Dick Pombo 88,883 (53%) to 78,223 (47%). This year the GOP targeted him and poured money into the campaign of right-wing extremist Dean Andal. McNerney wracked up a 10 point margin, 156,016 to 126,843. Charlie Brown almost beat John Doolittle in 2006, 104,746 (49%) to 97,217 (46%). Doolittle decided to retire from politics and Charlie fought it out with lunatic fringe Republican Tom McClintock in the reddest district seriously contested by a Democrat anywhere. The contest is still not called, as the vote count proceeds. Last official numbers showed a 50/50 break, with McClintock leading Charlie 169,957- 169,335.

In 2006 Blue America helped the Democrats defeat 3 far right GOP incumbents in Pennsylvania. Our three winners turned out to be a bit disappointing and we didn't re-endorse any of them this year. Two are decent moderates, Joe Sestak and Patrick Murphy and I was happy to see each increase his margin of victory substantially. Sestak went from a 56% in 2006 to 60% this year and Murphy went from a 50/50 close call in 2006 to a 57% triumph this year. The only former endorsee Blue America has ever subsequently opposed is dishonest reactionary Chris Carney, a homophobic, anti-choice Blue Dog and even his margin of victory managed to creep up slightly from 53% in 2006 to 56% this year.

New York was also a happy hunting ground for Blue America in 2006. Our primary candidate, John Hall, who we re-endosed in 2008, increased his support in the district substantially and, even though he was targeted by the GOP he went from a 51% victory in 2006 to a 58% victory this year. Our other two incumbents, Mike Arcuri and Kirsten Gillibrand, turned out to be moderate Blue Dogs and we didn't re-endose either. Both won re-election, Arcuri, just barely (51%, down from 54% in his pre-Blue Dog days) but Gillibrand with 62% against millionaire Big Biz Republican, Sandy Treadwell, who is hated by local right-wing loons who refused to vote for him. Our big victory in New York this year, though, was in the 29th CD, where Eric Massa re-engaged with Bush rubber stamp Randy Kuhl. In 2006 Eric got 93,974 votes (48%) against Kuhl's 99,926 (52%). This year persistence paid off and Eric took 131,646 votes (51%), helping to send one of the most pathetic members of Congress into early retirement.

Another of our second tries, this one in North Carolina, went even better. In 2006 Larry Kissell was viewed as too progressive by Rahm Emanuel and the DCCC and he was on his own with only grassroots support. He managed to nearly deadlock multimillionaire incumbent Robin Hayes 60,926 to 60,597. This year both parties turned out the voters and, after Hayes joined the Michele Bachmann crazy train, Larry slaughtered him, 155,746 (55%) to 125,355 (45%), one of the worst showings for any incumbent anywhere.

New Hampshire Congressman Paul Hodes coasted to re-election, increasing his 52% win in 2006 to a comfy 57% this year. It was much the same story for Bruce Braley in Iowa where his 55% win in 2006 increased to a 64% landslide this year. Unfortunately a third party candidate in Ohio's second CD worked out badly for Vic Wulsin. Although Mean Jean Schmidt's percentage of the vote decreased from 51% in 2006 to 45% in 2008, Vic was unable to capitalize on it, with 18% going to a third-party candidate.

And speaking of third party candidates, the Blue America endorsee from the 2006 Democratic primary in Florida's 13th CD, Jan Schneider, ran as an independent this year, helping to keep Blue Dog Christine Jennings out of Congress, a worthwhile accomplishment. Jennings went from a 50/50 loss in 2006 to just a 38% share of the vote this year, despite massive amounts of cash from Blue Dogs, the DCCC and other Establishment Democrats.


Tammy Baldwin (274,973), Chaka Fattah (267,605) and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (255,991)

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Mitch McConnell Going Moderate? I Wouldn't Count On It


caption contest in comments

No one has been a worse obstructionist to a positive progressive agenda in the past two years-- other than George Bush-- than Mitch McConnell, who basically spent virtually all of his time since the 2006 midterm elections knocked the GOP into the minority, filibustering one proposal after another. Today's NY Times refers to him as Senator No. And although Senator No just won his toughest ever re-election battle and is "safe" for 6 more years, he just watched Senate seats in Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Alaska, Oregon and North Carolina go from red to blue (incumbent colleagues having been defeated in the four latter cases). Two seats remain undecided, a razor thin recount in Minnesota that may have to be decided by the Democratic-led Senate itself, and a close run-off in Georgia. And regardless of what happens in Minnesota and Georgia, 2010 offers the surging Democrats an opportunity to take the GOP entirely out of the legislative game. Republican-held Senate seats likely to be captured by Democrats include states where Obama triumphed, like Pennsylvania, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio and North Carolina. And Democratic strategists see opportunities to take away red seats in states where McCain won, Louisiana, Missouri and McConnell's own state of Kentucky, where there have been persistent rumors that the other KY senator, Jim Bunning died several years ago. There may be not be much McConnell can do to resuscitate Bunning or his miserable political career, but he certainly knows that presiding over another half dozen Senate defeats in 2 years will end his own, at least on the national state.

So what's a corrupt, reflexive reactionary like McConnell to do? Does he go whole hog back into obstructionist mode like GOP extremists from Know Nothing states-- Jim DeMint (R-SC, who wants his job), James Inhofe (R-OK), the loony Wyoming twins, Johnny Isakson (R-GA), David Vitter (R-LA), John Kyl (R-AZ), John Cornyn (R-TX)-- are demanding? Or does he steer his caucus in a more moderate direction and support the popular new president's efforts to pull the country out from the mess created by years and years of failed Republican policies?

There is also anger and frustration from the confused, pissed-off Republican base. The GOP grassroots is up in arms and a lot of their animus is being directed towards McConnell, Boehner and other Inside the Beltway hacks.
The California Republican Party has an idea for a path back to power, and McConnell isn't on it. Neither is House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Meeting in San Diego, the board of directors of the California GOP recently passed a resolution "expressing concern about Republican leadership in Washington, D.C."

The resolution states that "since losing our Republican majorities in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in 2006, our Republican leadership in the Capitol has failed to unify Republicans against obscene and wasteful federal spending such as expanding entitlements, approval of the ever-bloated farm bill, and support for an irresponsible federal government 'bailout' of Wall Street that included no institutional fixes to ensure government intervention in the market would be curtailed."

The Californians also criticized Republican leaders in Washington for failing "to present a clear distinction with the Democrats because of their inability to unify Republicans against big government spending like the programs mentioned above."

Is there any real push for moderation inside the Republican caucus? Presumably Olympia Snowe, the last remaining moderate Republican is pulling in that direction. No one, except Democrats, cares what she says. Susan Collins, fresh from an electoral victory that leaves her safe for 6 years and filled with anger towards Democrats and a yen for revenge, can't be counted on. Before Arlen Specter, if he runs again, faces off against a moderate Democrat in 2010, he is likely to have to beat off an extreme right wing lunatic fringe Republican in a no holds barred primary. Like Specter, George Voinovich (R-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Mel Martinez (R-FL) are mainstream conservatives up for re-election in two years and all could face primary challenges from the far right fringe of their own party if they are seen as favoring "collaboration with the enemy."

The Times calls McConnell "genteel" (which is an absurd way to refer to someone who was kicked out of the army for grabbing an enlisted man's private parts) and "cagey," and offers some hope that he may be turning over a new leaf.
Senator McConnell is pronouncing President-elect Barack Obama off to a good start with an opportunity “to tackle big issues and to do them in the middle.” We have heard it before. Yet the heartening twist from the minority leader, newly re-elected after a race he found too close for comfort, is that he is quoting from Mr. Obama to make his point, retrieving a bit of prophecy from 2004, when the Democrats despaired in the minority and Senator Obama observed: “Whoever’s in power is going to have to govern with some modesty and some desire to work with the other side of the aisle. That’s certainly the approach I would advise Democrats should we regain control.”

Sounds like what McConnell has actually been saying, though, is that as long as Obama adopts Republican policy positions, he'll go along with him. Last week he promised the radical right Federalist Society that he would do his best to undermine President Obama's judicial nominees. According to McConnell "judicial nominees who have identified themselves with political causes in line with the interests of favored groups, including some of the politically correct ones identified by Obama during the presidential campaign, might not be able to keep their oath to uphold the law." I kind of think the Times was a little naive in its assessment today. A view from some Villagers:

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The Great (Democratic) Divide


There may be a debate raging Inside the Beltway over whether America is a center right nation-- as espoused by self-serving, reactionary corporatists and money grubbers like Doug Schoen-- or a center left nation, the conclusion of Democrats who aren't putting personal self interest first, but the debate is anything but academic. With the greed and selfishness contingent of nominal Democrats from deep in the bowels of the Republican wing of the Democratic Party seeing another cash-in opportunity for themselves and their cronies-- the Robert Rubins, Rahm Emanuels and Doug Schoens of the avaricious side of Democratic politics-- the debate gets mighty personal.

And when idealism and social good go up against personal greed... well, greed usually holds its own pretty well. If that weren't the case there would be no Republican Party, let alone craven Blue Dogs and a Republican wing of the Democratic Party. But no one has framed the ultimate meaning of the debate better than former Labor Secretary Robert Reich in a HuffPo essay on the argument of the rebirth of Keynes. Like most people who put the needs of society ahead of self interest, Reich argues that Obama should get behind a massive stimulus package "focused on building and repairing the nation's crumbling infrastructure, providing help to states to maintain services, and investing in new green technologies in order to wean the nation off oil."

Most Republicans and their right-leaning Democratic fellow travelers don't see it that way, although even some right-wing economists like Greg Mankiw are slowly waking up to reality. Reich hopes they'll be open to the most basic lessons of Keyesianism, that "when the economy has as much underutilized capacity as we have now, and are likely to have more of in 2009 and 2010 (in all likelihood, over 8 percent of our workforce unemployed, 13 percent underemployed, millions of houses empty, factories idled, and office space unused), government spending that pushes the economy to fuller capacity will of itself shrink future deficits."
Conservative supply-siders, meanwhile, will call for income-tax cuts rather than government spending, claiming that people with more money in their pockets will get the economy moving again more readily than can government. They're wrong, too. Income-tax cuts go mainly to upper-income people, and they tend to save rather than spend.

Even if a rebate could be fashioned for the middle class, it wouldn't do much good because, as we saw from the last set of rebate checks, people tend to use extra cash to pay off debts rather than buy goods and services. Besides, individual purchases wouldn't generate nearly as many American jobs as government spending on infrastructure, social services, and green technologies, because so much of we as individuals buy comes from abroad.

So the government has to spend big time. The real challenge will be for government to spend it wisely -- avoiding special-interest pleadings and pork projects such as bridges to nowhere. We'll need a true capital budget that lays out the nation's priorities rather than the priorities of powerful Washington lobbies. How exactly to achieve this? That's the debate we should be having between now and January 20 or 21st.

Most of the Democratic members of Congress are right in the middle of this debate. On the one hand you have Democrats, like the Blue Dogs, who are basically almost as bad as Republicans-- your David Borens, John Barrows, Jim Marshalls, Heath Shulers, Gene Taylors, Chris Carneys, Joe Donnellys, Melissa Beans-- and on the other hand, real Democrats like Donna Edwards, Tammy Baldwin, Jim McGovern, Linda Sánchez, Jesse Jackson, Jan Schakowsky, Ed Markey, John Olver. But between Xavier Becerra and Hank Johnson on the left and Ron Kind and Dennis Moore on the right, you have about 150 Democrats in the middle, liable to swing in any direction depending on circumstances. Many of these will be eager to take a lead from Obama... at least until he does something drastically wrong. And if you want to know what direction he's going in-- well, we'll all have to wait and see... or just read a lot of Digby

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

What Is It With The Republican Party And Toxicity? Why Are they So Drawn To Poisons?


As Bush prepares to disappear from public life-- utterly delusional to the bitter end-- his regime is unrelenting in causing as much harm and mayhem as they can. Earlier in the week the L.A. Times reported that the White House was pressuring the EPA to ease rules on lead emissions. Is it because Bush hates Americans-- especially children-- and wants them to wind up with learning disabilities so they are more likely to vote Republican? Or is it because he's being bribed by companies that thrive on pumping tons of toxic gases into the air?
Looking to bolster the fight against childhood lead poisoning, the Environmental Protection Agency last month approved a tough new rule aimed at clearing the nation's air of the toxic metal.

But at the last minute, federal documents show, the Bush administration quietly weakened a key provision, exempting dozens of polluters from scrutiny. A new network of monitors that is to track lead emissions from factories has been scaled back.

Critics say the change undermines a rule that otherwise has been widely hailed as a powerful step in protecting children's health.

The federal rule was prompted by compelling research showing lead is more dangerous than had been thought. Even low levels of the toxic metal in young children have been linked to learning disabilities, aggression and criminal behavior later in life. Many scientists say there is no safe level of exposure.

It's a slow news day but the NY Times piped in on yet more extremely antisocial tendencies among Republicans today as well. This time they're working into the wee hours of the night to implement a new rule to further damage American working families before Obama can stop them. Mitch McConnell's traitorous wife beard, a puppet of the Chinese government, has ordered the Labor Department to cement a rule in place that "would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job." This is a proposal that was "strenuously opposed" by Senator Obama. Again, Big Business has been paying off GOP politicians to do this for them before its too late. None of the "businessmen" or the political hacks they bribe have been indicted, arrested or even investigated.
Public health officials and labor unions said the rule would delay needed protections for workers, resulting in additional deaths and illnesses.

With the economy tumbling and American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush has promised to cooperate with Mr. Obama to make the transition “as smooth as possible.” But that has not stopped his administration from trying, in its final days, to cement in place a diverse array of new regulations.

The Labor Department proposal is one of about 20 highly contentious rules the Bush administration is planning to issue in its final weeks. The rules deal with issues as diverse as abortion, auto safety and the environment. One rule would make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wilderness areas. Another would reduce the role of federal wildlife scientists in deciding whether dams, highways and other projects pose a threat to endangered species.

Mr. Obama and his advisers have already signaled their wariness of last-minute efforts by the Bush administration to embed its policies into the Code of Federal Regulations, a collection of rules having the force of law. The advisers have also said that Mr. Obama plans to look at a number of executive orders issued by Mr. Bush.

A new president can unilaterally reverse executive orders issued by his predecessors, as Mr. Bush and President Bill Clinton did in selected cases. But it is much more difficult for a new president to revoke or alter final regulations put in place by a predecessor. A new administration must solicit public comment and supply “a reasoned analysis” for such changes, as if it were issuing a new rule, the Supreme Court has said.

Yes, it's true... Clinton did it too. As he was leaving the White House, he promulgated rules meant to remove poisonous, deadly arsenic from the drinking water. In Bush's first week he abrogated that rule. So isn't it fitting that in his last week he also work hard to do as much damage to ordinary Americans as he did when he started? After all, he was crowing today about how his values haven't changed one bit since he first stole the White House. And neither has the GOP's. These criminals haven't learned a thing, as right wing extremist Mark Sanford (R-SC) demonstrates in another one of his self-serving idiotic screeds in Politico.

The people of South Carolina made their bed, shit all over it and now have to sleep in it. Don't worry about them; most of them thrive on it-- always have too. Fortunately, the rest of us have decided to move on. "In September, Mr. Obama and four other senators introduced a bill that would prohibit the Labor Department from issuing the rule it is now rushing to complete. He also signed a letter urging the department to scrap the proposal, saying it would 'create serious obstacles to protecting workers from health hazards on the job.'”
The Labor Department rule is among many that federal agencies are poised to issue before Mr. Bush turns over the White House to Mr. Obama.

One rule would allow coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys. Another, issued last week by the Health and Human Services Department, gives states sweeping authority to charge higher co-payments for doctor’s visits, hospital care and prescription drugs provided to low-income people under Medicaid. The department is working on another rule to protect health care workers who refuse to perform abortions or other procedures on religious or moral grounds.

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Should William Kristol Be Tortured? Wouldn't Treatment In A Mental Hospital Be More Humane?


Neo-fascist father Irving (l) and pied son William Kristol (r)

Earlier this morning we talked about the barbarism of jihad, an integral part of one of the three primitive-- and long outdated, now poisonous-- Abrahamic belief systems. You don't only find this kind of poison, though, among the religionists and their pathetic brain-washed victims. This morning William Kristol, basically secular offspring of severely confused, demented neo-fascist orthodox Jews, Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb-- who would swing from the far left to the far right depending on which paranoid nerve receptor was working on which day. With this kind of mental illness untreated, society winds up with... William Kristol, spewing his hatred and bigotry on the editorial pages of a NY Times that would probably give Josef Goebbels a column in the interest of "balance" and their self-serving conception of "fairness." Kristol the Younger's latest exploration of moral turpitude and mental illness is on display in his less savory outlet, the Weekly Standard. Basically, he wants Bush to pardon all the torturers and wiretappers before he's officially relegated to the garbage heap of history. (Kristol knows he doesn't have to make a plea for the bribers and bribees of whose reign at the top of the Culture of Corruption were the real crowning achievement of decades of GOP misrule. That goes without saying.)

After urging Bush to start at least one more war in the few weeks remaining of his ill-starred term, Kristol expects Bush to suddenly become a communicator.
Bush can explain to Americans just how his administration's detention, interrogation, surveillance, and other counterterrorism policies have helped keep us safe. If he lays out the case for them publicly-- as his appointees are surely doing to their transition counterparts privately-- he'll make it easier for the incoming Obama administration to back off rash promises and continue most of the policies. This would be a real service to the country. It would also force a rethinking, by those capable of rethinking, of the cheap and easy demagoguing on issues like Guantánamo and eavesdropping. Over time, Bush might even get deserved credit for effective conduct of the war on terror.

I can't remember reading such delusional drivel even from a nutcase like Kristol, still raging about keeping Guantánamo open and about how popular Bush's policies are. But, as I said, the real purpose of Kristol's latest screed is to add his (again) to the chorus of fascists demanding all the war criminals and anti-American domestic terrorists be pardoned for their crimes.
Bush should consider pardoning-- and should at least be vociferously praising-- everyone who served in good faith in the war on terror, but whose deeds may now be susceptible to demagogic or politically inspired prosecution by some seeking to score political points. The lawyers can work out if such general or specific preemptive pardons are possible; it may be that the best Bush can or should do is to warn publicly against any such harassment or prosecution. But the idea is this: The CIA agents who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the NSA officials who listened in on phone calls from Pakistan, should not have to worry about legal bills or public defamation. In fact, Bush might want to give some of these public servants the Medal of Freedom at the same time he bestows the honor on Generals Petraeus and Odierno. They deserve it.

Some think that if the torturers had waterboarded traitors like Kristol and prevented him and his ilk from goading us into a catastrophic war whose flames he's still fanning, they would indeed deserve medals of honor. I'll have to consider that carefully before I endorse it. Old liberal that I am, I tend to think that torture is always wrong, even for someone like William Kristol. Pies in the face on the other hand...

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Blue America Welcomes Back Congressman-Elect Tom Perriello


When Mitchell Wade's lawyer used the fact that he had turned over corruption evidence against 5 members of Congress to plead for a reduced sentence, the response from all quarters was pretty much, "Who else besides Virgil Goode?"

The first time I met Tom Perriello, the politically unconnected, idealistic young progressive who had decided to take on Goode, a deeply entrenched six-term fixture in south-central Virginia, he told me he planned to defeat Goode without making an issue out of the Culture of Corruption. It didn't work in 2006 and Tom felt his values approach was a much better fit for the voters in VA-05. Instead he ran a positive campaign focused on solutions for the economy and offering a better plan for bringing jobs back to this hard-hit district. He was right. He actually out-performed Obama in the district by around 1,300 votes, primarily because he picked up unexpected-- by everyone but Tom-- support from independents and moderate Republicans sick of Goode's extremism. For anyone who wants to delve beyond the archived blog session we had with Tom back on June 28, Adam Serwer's exhaustive wrap up piece for the American Prospect makes a very worthwhile read.

Even on election night when it looked like Tom would win I said that Goode would have to be dragged out of his office, probably chained to his furniture. When the Danville Register, in the reddest part of the district, endorsed Tom, they mentioned they hadn't endorsed a Democrat for Congress since Goode was a Democrat. They'd supported him since 1996 but, they pointed out what so many people in VA-05 were feeling: "We haven’t left Virgil Goode. Virgil Goode has left us."

Anyway, in one of the closest congressional elections anywhere (158,712 to 157,967), Tom managed to win a real cliffhanger several days after most of the Blue America victors had started packing for the move to DC. Although the Virginia Board of Elections certified Tom's 745 vote victory, Goode has refused to concede and is demanding a recount, viewed by most people as pointless-- but costly.

There are 22 localities where the votes have to be recounted. Goode has two volunteer lawyers lined up for each locality. The state GOP is giving him massive support but no one is willing to say what they are spending.
Team Perriello plans to have one volunteer at each locality. They’ve already hired a legal team and believe the recount will cost them $100,000. That’s money the campaign still has to raise.

...The recount is simply a test to see if the vote tallies were recorded correctly. They’ll review computer printouts, re-run optical scan ballots, and count paper ballots by hand. No voting irregularities will be brought up at this time. It’s simply a check of the vote.

Officials with the State Board of Elections say the recount will be complete before Christmas, possibly as early as the second week of December... The results of the recount are final and cannot be appealed. According to Virginia code, the losing candidate’s only option is to challenge the results in court.

If anyone would like to join me help defray the costs to Tom's campaign of this recount, Act Blue has kept his election site open for this very purpose and you can donate through our Blue America page. Eighteen of our congressional candidates won this year (9, including Tom, by defeating incumbents); let's not watch Virgil Goode reduce that number. Please come over to Firedoglake at 2pm (EST) today and spend an hour with us getting an update from Tom.

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Civilization Clashes With Barbarism


The siege at the Taj is over and the gruesome task of figuring out the identities of the piles of dead bodies scattered throughout the hotel is being attended to. The initial estimates of 80 dead is now double that-- and rising. The one captured terrorist, a 21 year old Pakistani, Ajmal Amir Kasab, was a laborer with a 4th grade education. In coming days we'll hear about which madrassah had taught him about jihad.

The Somali Muslims who have made piracy their country's #1 foreign currency earner this year don't wrap their bloodthirsty savageness in pious religionist statements. They're honest enough to admit they're just... pirates.

Call Saudi King Abdullah a pirate and make sure you're not inside The Kingdom. He told the Kuwaiti paper Al-Seyassah that the price of oil is way too low.
"We believe the fair price for oil is $75 a barrel," he said, without elaborating on how this would be achieved. Whereas crude stood at about $147 a barrel in mid-July, it now hovers about $90 lower. On Friday, the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for January delivery was trading at about $54 per barrel.

The king was echoed by Qatar's Oil Minister Abdullah Bin Hamad al-Attiya, who told the Arab news channel Al-Arabiya just before the opening of the meeting of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries Saturday that prices needed to rise to guarantee investment into the oil sector.

"The price between 70 to 80 (dollars a barrel) is the one encouraging in investment and developing new or current oil fields. It falls below 70, the investment would freeze, which will lead to a crisis in supply in the future."

Bad timing. The world has been watching Muslim religionist fanatics-- fueled with the same kind of hatred that fuels homophobic Mormons in the West and fundamentalist snake-handlers in the South-- indiscriminately throwing hand grenades and firing machine guns into crowds of random people (some, no doubt, their co-religionists). I know India enough to tell you that even if this catastrophe doesn't propel the far right Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, to power, it will certainly lead to communal violence. An Op-Ed in yesterday's Washington Post by Dileep Padgaonkar, a former editor of the Times of India, explains how the Mumbai massacre is a threat to "India's secular and democratic polity." He warns that the timing of the attacks, on the eve of provincial elections-- Delhi, sometimes called "the Caliphate," is voting today-- will sharpen the differences between the secular Congress Party and the neo-fascist BJP.
After terrorist attacks in the past, the BJP has denounced the Congress party as being soft on terrorism in an effort to mobilize India's substantial Muslim vote in its favor. The Congress, in turn, attacks the BJP and its affiliates for bashing Muslims in order to consolidate its core Hindu vote. Indians have a peculiar word to describe this state of affairs-- communalism, meaning a determined bid to exploit religious sentiments for electoral gain.

The effect of this competitive demagoguery has been disastrous on many counts. Terrorism suspects have been picked up at random and denied legal rights. Allegations of torture by police are routine. Questions have been raised about the "encounters" between police and terrorism suspects. Suspects have been held for years as their court cases have dragged on. Convictions have been few and far between.

Commissions set up to investigate particularly gory incidents of religious violence have taken their time to produce reports. Few are opened for public debate. The recommendations in these reports have been routinely ignored or else implemented in a highly selective manner. Muslims convicted in some cases have been punished while Hindus have been let off lightly or not punished at all.

As a consequence, India's Muslims have begun to lose faith in the Indian state, its institutions and its instruments. This has led to the radicalization of Muslim youths. Religious extremism has pushed them onto the path of violence. Increasing evidence suggests that some have joined the ranks of the international jihadist movement with close links to terrorist groups in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh. Here in India, these groups are widely believed to collude with those countries' intelligence agencies.

Whether it's hate-infused, self-righteous Mormons or Muslims or Hindus or Christians or Jews, there really is no place for religionist fanatics in a civilized community. These primitive, barbaric belief systems are something that will have to be dealt with if mankind is going to survive as a species. It's long past time we stop coddling and even honoring these dangerous fanatics among us. Their path will only bring on repression and regression to their own barbarism. Religionist fanatics should be treated as the mentally deranged and sick people that they are-- and should be treated, compassionately, for their illness. In Nigeria over 10,000 people have been killed in religionist outbursts so far this decade-- and this week will probably bring it beyond 11,000. Wouldn't they be better off going back to worshipping trees and rocks? Wouldn't we all?

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Friday, November 28, 2008

The Parasite Class Caused The Current Economic Dislocations And They Have Every Intention Of Pointing The Way Down The Road


Today the NY Times has provided a redundant service to its readers by voicing, in an Op-Ed, suggestions for handling the economic downturn by one of its greed-obsessed authors. I say "redundant" because that is pretty much all one hears about the economic downturn-- the masters of the universe telling us how badly we've screwed up-- by following their lead without examining their always selfish motivations-- and what to do about it. Stephen Roach will, of course survive when all those who follow his advise are underwater; he's the Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia. He hasn't been arrested, indicted, charged with any crimes-- and in all likelihood he'll be getting a Christmas bonus this year equal to the annual wage of 10 people who, unlike himself, do actual work for a living.

Before Roach was promoted, he was Morgan Stanley's chief economist for 16 years-- and one of America's most famous bears, perennially warning about consumerism, the mainstay of the lifestyle of his parasitic class. After 9/11 Bush asked for no sacrifices from Americans, only that they go shopping. In the midst of the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression-- brought on, incidentally, by the exact same underlying Republican policies of unfettered greed and selfishness-- the slower-witted among us are being told that shopping is patriotic... and the way to bring back the economy. Oddly, no one ever suggests trials and firing squads for the "businessmen" and their bipartisan political enablers who raped and pillaged that economy.

When Roach says "it's game over for the American consumer," he wasn't referring to Jdimypai Damour, the 34 year old WalMart employee who was trampled to death-- doesn't that only happen in China or did that get globalized too?-- at 5am from a crowd of... super-patriots. No WalMart executive have been lynched, indicted, charged, arrested... or anything.
Witnesses said the surging throngs of shoppers knocked the man down. He fell and was stepped on. As he gasped for air, shoppers ran over and around him.

I've been to almost 100 countries. When people ask me which one I liked least I always say Hong Kong and I always paint a nightmarish fantasy like the one above as the reason why. But I grew up within walking distance of the Valley Stream (Long Island) mall where the possible WalMart publicity stunt occurred. A WalMart executive, who could easily have worked for Josef Goebbels in another time and another place, was quoted saying "The safety and security of our customers and associates is our top priority." Arbeit Macht Frei!

He also said, "Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this difficult time." Well, then... let's move on; nothing out of the ordinary to see here. In fact, WalMart was encouraging customers to just keep on truckin' into the stores as rescue workers fought to save the man's life. The police finally forced the savage Republicans to shut it down. Again no WalMart executives were lynched, indicted, charged, arrested... or, as I said, anything. The top brass had no comment, being too busy working on a propaganda campaign to persuade workers how undemocratic and anti-working family labor unions are. Wall Street and WalMart are two sides of a coin that has proven ruinous and deadly for average Americans. Roach-- the multimillionaire economist-- foresees "rising unemployment, weakening incomes, falling home values, a declining stock market, record household debt and a horrific credit crunch." I guess he watches CNN too. He thinks this is unfortunate for us-- he's fine, thank-- but, basically, "a painful but necessary adjustment. Since the mid-1990s, vigorous growth in American consumption has consistently outstripped subpar gains in household income. This led to a steady decline in personal saving. As a share of disposable income, the personal saving rate fell from 5.7 percent in early 1995 to nearly zero from 2005 to 2007."
Inflation-adjusted personal consumption expenditures are on track for rare back-to-back quarterly declines in the second half of 2008 at a 3.5 percent average annual rate. There are only four other instances since 1950 when real consumer demand has fallen for two quarters in a row. This is the first occasion when declines in both quarters will have exceeded 3 percent. The current consumption plunge is without precedent in the modern era.

...In the days of frothy asset markets, American consumers had no compunction about squandering their savings and spending beyond their incomes. Appreciation of assets — equity portfolios and, especially, homes — was widely thought to be more than sufficient to make up the difference. But with most asset bubbles bursting, America’s 77 million baby boomers are suddenly facing a savings-short retirement.

Worse, millions of homeowners used their residences as collateral to take out home equity loans. According to Federal Reserve calculations, net equity extractions from United States homes rose from about 3 percent of disposable personal income in 2000 to nearly 9 percent in 2006. This newfound source of purchasing power was a key prop to the American consumption binge.

...In an era of open-ended house price appreciation and extremely cheap credit, few doubted the wisdom of borrowing against one’s home. But in today’s climate of falling home prices, frozen credit markets, mounting layoffs and weakening incomes, that approach has backfired. It should hardly be surprising that consumption has faltered so sharply.

Where, oh, where did Americans get these wildly irresponsible ideas? I'm sure Morgan Stanley-- a company I once sued for ripping me off, by the way-- never encouraged anyone to refinance and take equity out of their home for a Christmas splurge or a fancy vacation or a better car... or to put into a hedge fund. And because of all this borrowing against assets, "household debt hit a record 133 percent of disposable personal income by the end of 2007-- an enormous leap from average debt loads of 90 percent just a decade earlier." Yale and Harvard economist George W. Bush-- don't laugh; he has the degrees to prove it-- pretty much based 8 years of American government financial and economic policy on driving that number higher and higher-- even if he didn't have a clue he was doing that, a distinct possibility probability.

And needless to say, the parasite class has remedies for us... of course. "The United States needs a very different set of policies to cope with its post-bubble economy. It would be a serious mistake to enact tax cuts aimed at increasing already excessive consumption. Americans need to save. They don’t need another flat-screen TV made in China." And if you think that means just tax the rich-- or even confiscate their ill-gotten gains... well, then you're probably new to this blog. Roach sprinkles some very sensible mainstream ideas into his wealth preservation agenda.
The Obama administration needs to encourage the sort of saving that will put consumers on sounder financial footing and free up resources that could be directed at long overdue investments in transportation infrastructure, alternative energy, education, worker training and the like. This strategy would not only create jobs but would also cut America’s dependence on foreign saving and imports. That would help reduce the current account deficit and the heavy foreign borrowing such an imbalance entails.

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to come up with effective saving policies. The money has to come out of Americans’ paychecks. This can be either incentive driven-- expanded 401(k) and I.R.A. programs-- or mandatory, like increased Social Security contributions. As long as the economy stays in recession, any tax increases associated with mandatory saving initiatives should be off the table. (When times improve, however, that may be worth reconsidering.)

Fiscal policy must also be aimed at providing income support for newly unemployed middle-class workers-- particularly expanded unemployment insurance and retraining programs. A critical distinction must be made between providing assistance for the innocent victims of recession and misplaced policies aimed at perpetuating an unsustainable consumption binge.

Crises are the ultimate in painful learning experiences. The United States cannot afford to squander this opportunity. Runaway consumption must now give way to a renewal of saving and investment. That’s the best hope for economic recovery and for America’s longer-term economic prosperity.

Especially for Morgan Stanley... and the entire parasite class. Speaking of which...
Under fire for his role in the near-collapse of Citigroup Inc., Robert Rubin said its problems were due to the buckling financial system, not its own mistakes, and that his role was peripheral to the bank's main operations even though he was one of its highest-paid officials.

"Nobody was prepared for this," Mr. Rubin said in an interview. He cited former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as another example of someone whose reputation has been unfairly damaged by the crisis.

Not counting stock options, Rubin earned $115 million from Citi since 1999. Why do you think they gave him all that money?

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Rove Still Knows How To Pull The Strings... On Democrats


Rove plants a little mindfuck into the a gussied up Republican Party propaganda sheet and progressives start freaking out. In his own snide, backhanded way, Rove seemed to semi-compliment the Obama economic team. He could cover Patti Smith's classic "Pissin' in a River," by changing "river" to "punchbowl." He starts his paean to Team Obama by praising people who basically disagree with his overall view on the economy straight down the line and it then clearly turns into a couch for his attack against a viable labor movement. He claims Obama, "did not reduce confusion on a Detroit bailout by saying he supported a 'sustainable auto industry.' America already has that in 69 foreign-owned auto plants that employ 92,700 Americans. The question is this: Does Mr. Obama want a sustainable U.S.-owned auto industry? If so, will he require changes in the Big Three's management, labor agreements and cost structure in return for aid? All he'd say Monday was that the industry needed to develop a plan." That's the GOP line, no matter how many chocolates and flowers they appear to throw at the feet of "first-rate thinker" Peter Orszag and "respected monetary expert," Christina Romer. And when it comes down to the only way the auto industry will actually be made viable-- through the Republican-hated universal health care-- Rove was his vicious, reactionary, partisan old self:

The only troubling personnel note was Melody Barnes as Domestic Policy Council director. Putting a former aide to Ted Kennedy in charge of health policy after tapping universal health-care advocate Tom Daschle to be Health and Human Services secretary sends a clear signal that Mr. Obama didn't mean it when his campaign ads said he wouldn't run to the "extremes" with government-run health care.

I wouldn't worry about what Karl Rove thinks, says or writes. He's utterly irrelevant and Obama knows it. Don't jump when he tries jerking your chain.

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Will Chris Matthews Be The Democratic Candidate Against Snarlin' Arlen In PA?


Man, I used to hate Chris Matthews. To me, he was just a conservative Democrat kissing up to then-dominant Republican insiders by always sticking it to Democrats, particularly to the (unjustly) embattled President Clinton. I'd be too embarrassed to delineate exactly what I used to wish on Matthews for his pandering to the fascists. But, as we all know, MSNBC shifted to the left this year, at least in the evenings, and Matthews became part of a very partisan-- and very successful-- juggernaut that included Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. I have really enjoyed Matthews as a Democratic partisan, part of cable TV's answer to the Hannity-O'Reilly Republican Party spin machine at Fox. But now Matthews, whose contract with MSNBC expires in June, wants to run for the Senate seat currently held by 78 year old Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter. (Matthews is 62, youngish by Senate standards.)

If it were Rachel Maddow or Keith, Blue America would probably be starting a fundraising drive. But Matthews? What do you think? What should we do? Remember we're not a Democratic Party committee; we're dedicated to progressive values, not to strengthening a party apparatus that, more often than not, will betray the values and ideals we think need to be in the forefront of American politics.

On Wednesday a hackish Pennsylvania political journalist based in DC, Josh Drobnyk, writing for the cash-strapped/standards lowering L.A. Times jumped the gun and reported that Matthews was probably going to run. "The Philadelphia native has been toying with a run for months, and this week he sat down with state Democrats to discuss the prospect of taking on the five-term GOP senator."
"There are a lot of compelling reasons why serious Democrats would aspire to run in 2010," said Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney, who said Matthews had been in Pennsylvania Monday meeting with other Democratic leaders.

"You look at what has gone on in this state in the past six or seven years, and you think nothing is out of reach," Rooney said. Since 2002, Pennsylvania Democrats have grabbed the governor's mansion; unseated the Senate's No. 3 Republican, Rick Santorum; and picked up five U.S. House seats. But just as relevant to the party's optimism is what has happened outside the state. The Northeast lost nearly half its slate of Senate Republicans in the previous two elections, leaving Specter with just three GOP colleagues from the eight Northeastern states: Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Specter can probably expect a tough primary from the right, one he can probably fend off like he has in the past, but that will cost a great deal of money, energy and push him further to the right than he would otherwise position himself for a general election.The lunatic fringe head of the neo-fascist Club for Growth, ex-congressman Pat Toomey may run against Specter again. In 2004 he was within 2 points of beating him in the primary.

This morning pollster Nat Silver reported that Matthews is staffing up for a run after meeting with Obama operatives who are working on the Jim Martin Senate campaign in Georgia. Political junkies all know who Chris Matthews is, but not that many people have ever even heard of MSNBC, let alone Matthews, to give him some kind of advantage in an election. In fact, early polling-- basically a measure of familiarity-- shows that the far better known Specter would wipe him out. "Sixty percent of those polled said they didn't know enough about Matthews to form an opinion of him, while Specter has a 62 percent approval rating."

Specter is one of the 3 moderate Republicans who are occasionally willing to vote with Democrats on key substantive issues, the other two being Olympia Snows and Susan Collins. More often than not, however-- in fact far more often-- Specter has been a rubber stamp supporter of all the worst policies that have made up Bush's toxic and catastrophic agenda. Over the past 4 years Pennsylvania voters have punished elected officials who have supported the Bush agenda-- defeating Senator Rick Santorum and Congressmembers Curt Weldon, Melissa Hart, Mike Fitzpatrick, Don Sherwood, Phil English.

Democrats seem enthusiastic to get a celebrity candidate and Matthews is well-positioned to win a primary against one of the Democratic congressmembers (Sestak or Schwartz). His bother, Jim, is a County Commissioner in suburban Montgomery County and he has strong ties to Governor Rendell and to local Democratic machines.

He's always seemed like a stereotypical Irish-Catholic middle of the road Democrat. After being a Goldwater supporter, he swung hard against the Vietnam War and away from the GOP. He ran for Congress in 1974 but lost to the crooked machine Democratic incumbent, Joshua Eilberg (who was eventually convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to 5 years in prison-- although not before pulling strings and getting U.S. Attorney David Marston fired by Jimmy Carter, a disgraceful episode presaging the Bush Justice Department scandals.) Meanwhile, Matthews took a job as a speechwriter for Carter and then as a chief legislative assistant to House Speaker Tip O'Neill, his main claim to electability for many people. Of course the other, less attractive side, to that old fashioned meat and potatoes blue collar Democrat is the unacceptable reactionary social positions. Matthews has been a serial sexist and will have a real problem with women voters. Anyway... worth noting and watching. We're interested in hearing alternatives to Mathews and Specter.

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Michell Wade Thinks He's Ratted Out Enough Republicrooks So As Not To Serve A Day In Jail


Goode lost his House seat. Is prison next?

It's kind of an unwritten law etched into stone that members of Congress don't get indicted within x number of days before an election. They make themselves some pretty helpful rules for themselves, don't they? Anyway, the election is over and "x number of days" is less than 2 years so... suddenly crooked Republican contractor/lobbyist, Mitchell Wade has something of great value: information on a number of congressmen who he bribed during the Tom Delay go-go Culture of Corruption years. Today's Washington Post says he's given the goods to the Feds of five congressmen other than the already convicted and imprisoned Duke Cunningham, currently awaiting a pardon from George Bush.
Wade, who is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 15, faces a minimum of nine years in prison. Instead, based primarily on his cooperation with government investigators, he is seeking to have that sentence reduced to "a year of home detention, a fine of $250,000, five years probation and substantial community service," according to the sentencing memorandum filed on his behalf by his attorney, Howard M. Shapiro.

So everyone is running around asking who are the other 3 (besides Virgil Goode and Katherine Harris). Presumably another one is John Doolittle. That leaves two. Prime suspects are Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Tom Delay (R-TX), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Elizabeth Dole (R-NC). Seth Hettena, one of the first journalists to get his teeth into the Cunningham case and Wade's role in it, thinks Wade may have spilled the beans on bigger fish than a mere member of Congress... like the Director of National Intelligence, John McConnell.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008



I just wanted to say Thank You to all the progressive men and women who sacrificed so much to take on the burden of running for public office this year. It amazes me that anyone sane does this. So this Sam and Dave video has nothing to do with anyone winning or losing, just doing something about what the rest of us mostly sit around and complain about. If you didn't win this time, please think about trying again.


I Wish I Could Be Thankful For $70/Hour Pay For Auto Workers


Later today I'm going over to my friends Russ' and Rebecca's house for a Thanksgiving dinner. I wish I could thank God that American auto workers and other workers are making $70 an hour. If it were true, there would be no financial crisis in this country. But it isn't true. It isn't even nearly true. I had lunch with a friend from CitiGroup yesterday. She's an enlightened person who enthusiastically voted for Obama-- and more enthusiastically cheered his appointments of the Wall Street contingent he just hired to fix the economy some sat they were complicit in breaking. Her prescription for the Detroit problem is the plan being pushed by the right: bankruptcy, jettisoning of pensions and, more than anything, abrogation of labor contracts. Like many Americans she has been persuaded that auto workers make $70/hour. I wish it were the case. They don't make half that, however.

I'm not sure what my friend makes per hour. She moves money and monetary instruments around on computers. Her income is certainly closer to $300/hour than it is to the $70/hour she begrudges the auto workers. Since the beginning of the Bush Regime, the rich have gotten richer-- much richer-- and the poor have gotten poorer-- and the middle class has gotten smaller-- and poorer. And this isn't like a coincidence; it's the result of careful planning, Regime policy and legislation. Despite all the corporate scandals that have been one of the more repulsive hallmarks of the Bush Regime-- and despite the much-ballyhooed but toothless "reforms" bandied about-- the asymmetry in the distribution of wealth and income disparity between those at the tippy-top of the economic pyramid (scheme) and the rest of us, has actually gotten much worse every single year single the Enron catastrophe. According to the Economist, in 2004 America's top 2000 CEOs averaged pay raises of around 30% bringing their salaries to nearly $6 million annually. And CEO bonuses at the top 100 companies rose gigantically and are well over a million dollars each. If there is any correlation between overpaid CEOs and stock values, it is a negative correlation, with stock prices actually declining as CEO pay packages rise into the stratosphere. Between 1990 and 2004 the average worker's pay remained basically flat at $27,000 while CEO pay went from $2.8 million to almost $12 million. And in the entire industrial world, the U.S. has the worst disparity between workers and their CEO bosses, far worse than Japan, Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, England, Canada... more in line with places like Saudi Arabia. The Bush Regime agenda of regressive tax policies are at the heart of this. A couple of years ago the NY Times took note that the income gap during the Bush years has widened significantly.
Income inequality grew significantly in 2005, with the top 1 percent of Americans — those with incomes that year of more than $348,000-- receiving their largest share of national income since 1928, analysis of newly released tax data shows.

The top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, also reached a level of income share not seen since before the Depression.

While total reported income in the United States increased almost 9 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data is available, average incomes for those in the bottom 90 percent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping $172, or 0.6 percent.

The gains went largely to the top 1 percent, whose incomes rose to an average of more than $1.1 million each, an increase of more than $139,000, or about 14 percent.

The new data also shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980.

We don't pay much heed to the twisted, distorted, corporate-oriented New Republic these days but last week even one of their senior editors, Jonathan Cohn, was moved to debunk the Republican Party talking point that so many have swallowed whole about $70/hour auto workers.

The actual average pay for auto workers by the Big 3 is $28/hour, just under $60,000 a year... before taxes and "hardly outrageous, particularly when you consider the physical demands of automobile assembly work and the skills most workers must acquire over the course of their careers." The non-unionized Japanese auto makers operating their scab plants in backward, anti-labor states like Alabama, home of GOP reactionary and corporate shill, Richard "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" Shelby, don't pay that much less-- approximately $20-26/hour, maybe $10,000 less per year. Cohn wants to get to the bottom of the $70 an hour myth. "It didn't come out of thin air," he writes and, for a change, Rush Limbaugh didn't just pull it out of Bill O'Reilly's ass.
Analysts came up with it by including the cost of all employer-provided benefits--namely, health insurance and pensions--and then dividing by the number of workers. The result, they found, was that benefits for Big Three cost about $42 per hour, per employee. Add that to the wages-- again, $28 per hour-- and you get the $70 figure. Voila.

Except... notice something weird about this calculation? It's not as if each active worker is getting health benefits and pensions worth $42 per hour. That would come to nearly twice his or her wages. (Talk about gold-plated coverage!) Instead, each active worker is getting benefits equal only to a fraction of that--probably around $10 per hour, according to estimates from the International Motor Vehicle Program. The number only gets to $70 an hour if you include the cost of benefits for retirees-- in other words, the cost of benefits for other people. One of the few people to grasp this was's Felix Salmon. As he noted yesterday, the claim that workers are getting $70 an hour in compensation is just "not true."

Interestingly a fascinating new report on China's economy from the World Bank seems to attribute that country's slowdown to the shrinking share of GDP that has been going to workers (from 50% at the start of the decade to a drastically reduced 40% now). If workers have no money they can't be consumers-- not here and not there. Henry Ford may have been a right-wing jackass and, like many at the apex of the GOP Establishment at the time, an anti-Semitic Hitler cheerleader (if not conspirator), but he understood one thing about business that the Bush economic team never seems to have cared to grasp: if workers can't afford basic products, a consumer-driven economy dies... fast. Ford kept his model T's cheap claiming he wanted his factory workers to afford to buy them. A few nights ago I was reading how WalMart workers-- because they are paid so poorly, primarily due to the Republican Party's obsessive efforts on behalf of their WalMart paymasters to keep unions out of America's #1 employer. WalMart workers are a drain on taxpayers because they get no health care benefits and are as likely to wind up in a taxpayer supported emergency room as to be able to pay to see a doctor. WalMart and the GOP have one priority and one priority only for the first months of the Obama presidency: prevent the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), passage of which is a stepping stone on the road back to a healthy, middle class society that features a more equitable distribution of wealth, historically anathema to right-wing parties and their supporters.

As George Packer points out in this week's New Yorker, the authors of America's financial and economic collapse are not only not being punished, they are still busily gorging themselves on an inordinate share of the GDP. Should they be hunted down and shot like mad dogs in the streets (mostly Wall Street)? No, I believe in fair trials first.
Having brought the American and global economy to its knees through their reckless, shortsighted, downright stupid investments, and then looked to the government for a very expensive lifeline, the leaders of Citigroup, A.I.G., Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman, and other financial giants are maintaining a carefully nonchalant public posture. Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Attorney General, had to hold a threatening press conference on Wall Street in order to frighten A.I.G. into announcing that raises, bonuses, and lavish retreats will be suspended. But fear is not the same thing as shame. Morally speaking, it’s inferior.

Packer, more of a moderate than I, apparently doesn't go for my shooting solution. He writes he would like to see "these malefactors of great wealth apologize to the country. I would like to see them organize their own press conference in a lineup on Wall Street and, in the manner of disgraced Japanese officials, bow low to the pavement, express contrition, and beg their countrymen’s forgiveness. Such a scene would go some way toward cleansing the smell of the financial crisis." I think they would be happy-- very, very happy-- to do just that so long as they could keep their ill-gotten gains. But Packers says even the apology scenario is sheer fantasy. "[I]nstead, like the parents of two-year-olds, the next Congress should summon them to Washington and publicly punish these executives who, in Kohlberg’s terms, “see morality as something external to themselves, as that which the big people say they must do.”

I like the punishment idea. It should start with confiscation of amassed fortunes.

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No Obama Press Conference Today-- News Day Is All About Mumbai


I'm monitoring the real time live news feed at the CNN affiliate and there are still three sieges going on, one at the Oberoi (Trident) Hotel, one at the Taj Hotel, and one at Nariman House (where 10-15 Israelis are being held). There are hostages. Indian special forces are preparing to storm the three locations. The police say they picked up a cell phone from a terrorist inside the Taj and that its getting calls from "a neighboring country." Nepal? Myanmar?... Bhutan?

The weak and staggering Pakistani government is unlikely to have had anything to do with this travesty. Many in India will blame them anyway. It's more likely that the Pakistanis involved in this are at least as dedicated to see their own country collapse into anarchy as they are expecting to see India grant independence to Kashmir-- or break apart or whatever they want. The Pakistani Foreign Minister is in India and expressed shock and horror and pledged cooperation. The president and prime minister of Pakistan have condemned the attacks.

There is still too much confusion-- in a society where confusion is a hallmark-- to be able to even report definitively on what has happened, let alone why. Early analysis, though, seems to be headed towards "absolving" al-Qaeda. The e-mailers claiming credit, the "Deccan Mujahedeen," has never been heard of before.
Christine Fair, senior political scientist and a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation, was careful to say that the identity of the terrorists could not yet be known. But she insisted the style of the attacks and the targets in Mumbai suggested the militants were likely to be Indian Muslims and not linked to Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taiba, another violent South Asian terrorist group.

“There’s absolutely nothing Al Qaeda-like about it,” she said of the attack. “Did you see any suicide bombers? And there are no fingerprints of Lashkar. They don’t do hostage-taking and they don’t do grenades.” By contrast, Mr. Gohel in London said “the fingerprints point to an Islamic Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group.”

Mr. Hoffman he said the attacks, which he called “tactical, sophisticated and coordinated,” perhaps pointed to a broader organization behind the perpetrators.

The Indian security official said the attackers likely had ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a guerrilla group run by Pakistani intelligence in the conflict with India in the disputed territory of Kashmir. On Thursday, the group denied involved in the Mumbai attacks. India blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba for a suicide assault on its Parliament by gunmen in December, 2001 that led to a perilous military standoff with Pakistan.

...“There are a lot of very, very angry Muslims in India,” Ms. Fair said, “The economic disparities are startling and India has been very slow to publicly embrace its rising Muslim problem. You cannot put lipstick on this pig. This is a major domestic political challenge for India.”

“The public political face of India says, “Our Muslims have not been radicalized.’ But the Indian intelligence apparatus knows that’s not true. India’s Muslim communities are being sucked into the global landscape of Islamist jihad,” she said. “Indians will have a strong incentive to link this to Al Qaeda. ‘Al Qaeda’s in your toilet!’ But this is a domestic issue. This is not India’s 9/11.”

Even while the last 2-3 gunmen at the Taj and Oberoi hotels are battling it out with the Indian special forces and the Chabad community center at Nariman House is surrounded, many are trying to figure out the why. Deepak Chopra has far better analysis of what's happening than any of the CNN talking heads. Newsweek gives it a stab by asking Zareed Zakaria for his educated opinion:
I think one of the misconceptions we're seeing so far is the assumption that these attacks were aimed primarily at foreigners. Look at their targets. The two hotels they attacked-- the Taj and the Oberoi-- are old, iconic Indian hotels. It used to be true that these places were affordable only by Westerners. But this is no longer true, and it's one of the big changes over the last ten years in India. The five-star hotels today are filled with Indians. Businessmen, wedding receptions, parties…these are real meeting places now, and even those who cannot afford to stay there often pass through the lobby.

There's a Marriott, and a Hilton, a Four Seasons….The big American chains all have hotels there, and there are many more distinctly American targets. The Taj and the Oberoi are owned by Indians. My guess is that there will be a lot of Indians involved, and that this will generate a lot of domestic outrage.

...An Indian businessman who says he heard the attackers said he didn't understand the language that the young men were speaking. That means that it wasn't Hindi or Urdu… most Indians would recognize the major languages even if they couldn't speak one of them. But most Indians would be unfamiliar with what's spoken in parts of the Kashmir. That's a source of much of the terrorism. My guess is that ultimately this will turn out to be some outside jihadi groups who might also recruit among disaffected Muslims locally.

One of the untold stories of India is that the Muslim population has not shared in the boom the country has enjoyed over the last ten years. There is still a lot of institutional discrimination, and many remain persecuted. There's enough alienation out there that there are locals who can be drawn in to plots. That tends to be a pattern, from Madrid to Casablanca to Bali-- some hard-core jihadis who indoctrinate alienated locals they can seduce.

If you wanted to construct a conspiracy theory, it would go like this: elements of the Pakistani intelligence service that would like to get India more drawn into conflict in Kashmir might encourage this sort of thing. That would draw militants in the Pakistani tribal areas away from attacking the Pakistani state, and back to attacking the Indian state. But I've never tended to believe such theories. More plausible to me: this is a classic Frankenstein monster. All these groups have some degree of training and support from Pakistan. But this operation probably does not involve that directly. These groups are now autonomous, self-supporting, and have gone beyond those origins.


It looks like all the terrorists at the Taj Hotel have been killed or captured and the fire is under control if not completely doused. The Oberoi appears to be in more under control, although commandos are going room to room looking for stranded guests. There are still explosions and gunfire at the Chabad center at Nariman House. Seven hostages have left but there are still hostages inside, including Rabbi Gabriel Holtzberg and his wife. Their 18 month old child was rescued by the cook who fled from the center. It looks like the death toll is up around 125 people so far, including 6 foreigners and 8 terrorists. Several hundred people have been injured, many critically. The death toll is expected to rise. There seems to be people upset about canceled cricket matches.

There also seems to be a Pakistani connection, though probably not a Pakistani government connection.


The terrorists might as well stick their guns in their mouths and pull the triggers now. India agreed to have 40 Israeli security specialists fly in to "help."

UPDATE: Oops... Noon in Mumbai and Terrorists Still Shooting

Despite reports that the Taj and Oberoi were cleared of terrorists, there are still shots ringing out from inside the Taj, which is still on fire. There may still be hostages. Another terrorist was killed by special forces at the Oberoi, as were, apparently, some hostages. 40 foreigners have been rescued from the Oberoi. Indian special forces are assaulting the Chabad House. The Indians don't know how many terrorists are still at large there or anywhere else.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Of Ganders, Geese And Unspeakable Corruption In Congress


Did you read this editorial about the ongoing culture of corruption in DC in today's NY Times?
More questions are being raised about the doubtful ethics of Representative Wally Herger of California, who, after the retirement of GOP closet case Jim McCrery, is scheduled to take over as ranking minority member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. The latest sniff of scandal-- a breakfast meeting with a donor seeking tax protection-- provides more grist for the House ethics inquiry that’s supposed to be under way into Mr. Herger’s tangled affairs.

According to a report in the Times on Tuesday, Mr. Herger, a far right nut case on the lunatic fringe of his party, breakfasted last year with a major donor to his pet legacy: a school of marriage counseling at the Mormon Bible College in Yuba City that will bear Mr. Herger’s name. The donor, an oil-drilling executive, says he then escorted the NRA fanatic across the dining room of the Carlyle Hotel to meet his company’s waiting lobbyist-- a special pleader intent on protecting an off-shore tax loophole.

As events progressed, the loophole was protected, the donor pledged $1 million to the Herger school and the principals deny that there was any quid pro quo.

Are you ready to sign a petition to have Herger expelled from the House-- or at least investigated. Look at this fanatic, extremist right-wing voting record. The country would be so much better off without him. And this is hardly his first or only brush with ethical improprieties. I even had one with him myself when he came closer than comfortable to soliciting a bribe!

Oh, I didn't mean Herger. I actually meant the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee-- and so did the Times.

Mr. Rangel also says he has no recollection of the lobbyist breakfast encounter, while company officials say it involved only a few minutes and ended with Mr. Rangel restating his opposition to closing the loophole.

Nevermind that the congressman had earlier denounced the boondoggle for costing taxpayers tens of millions annually. He maintains he since concluded that a change would amount to an unfair retroactive tax increase. The Times’s David Kocieniewski reports that congressional colleagues were shocked by the reversal.

We hope that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is shocked into action. She should insist that the ethics investigation move forward-- and that Mr. Rangel relinquish his chairmanship during the inquiry. If Mr. Rangel continues to resist, the speaker should permanently reassign the gavel. In a deep economic crisis, the committee, and the country, cannot afford the distraction.

And Pete Stark, one of the most forward-thinking and progressive members of Congress-- and far, far more progressive than Rangel, I might add-- would take over running the committee. Rangel's ethics problems are getting in the way of the important work that Ways and Means is doing-- some of it by Rangel-- and it is giving the Republicans plenty of ammunition to paint the Democratic Party with the same brush that has been so effectively used on corrupt Republicans.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that Democratic House leaders were eroding their credibility by failing to address Mr. Rangel’s behavior.

“Representative Rangel’s ethics problems continue to mount, yet the ethics committee and the Democratic leadership remain silent,” she said. “Members of Congress often seem to believe that rules are for other people, and sadly, the ethics committee does nothing to correct that assumption,” she said. “It is long past time for Representative Rangel to be called to account for his repeated ethics violations.”

Rangel will be 80 in 2010 and he's been representing NY-15 since 1971. Despite his shameful record on corporate trade policies, he's given this country a great deal of valuable service. He should start thinking about retiring. Pelosi claims she wants to read the Ethics Committee report first and that it will be in her hands by January 3.

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I Would Rate Mumbai, India As A Safe City To Visit Although It Wasn't Today


Gates of India on the right, Taj Mahal Hotel on the left

The first time I was in Mumbai, then called Bombay, was 1970 and I was so happy to be in India after driving for months and months and months across a far less hospitable western and central Asia. I was on my way to Goa in my trusty VW van. I only stayed in a hotel once in the whole 2 years I was on the Indian subcontinent and it was at the very end of the trip. In Bombay I slept in my van right at the Gates of India in the shadow of a hotel I came to stay at many times years later, the Taj, sight of some of the worst of today's violence. It usually gets rated as Mumbai's most luxurious and prestigious hotel. Last time I was there Roland was taking a shower when there was a power blackout. There was no electricity, of course, and something very odd happened. The water in the shower turned to sewage. [A similar thing, although it was thankfully a sink and not a shower and there was no contact, happened to me at New Orleans' best hotel, the Windsor Court, but they gave me a coupon for two free nights to assuage their embarrassment. The Taj knew no embarrassment and we were forced to walk up and down countless flights of stairs several times.]

Today Islamic terrorists dealt a severe blow to India's tourism industry by attacking the Taj, the Oberoi and several other top of the line tourist spots, killing an unspecified number of people-- looks like over 100-- and holding others hostage. The situation is still fluid as I write. Americans and Brits were especially sought out among the hostages and then shot.
The attacks appeared to be aimed at getting international attention as the terrorists took upto 40 British nationals and other foreigners hostage. The chairman of Hindustan Unilever Harish Manwani and CEO of the company Nitin Paranjpe were among the guests trapped at the Oberoi. All the internal board members of the multinational giant were reported to be holed up in the Oberoi hotel.

Two terrorists were reported holed up inside the Oberoi Hotel. Fresh firing has been reported at Oberoi and Army has entered the hotel to flush out the terrorists.

An unknown outfit, Deccan Mujahideen, has sent an email to news organizations claiming that it carried out the Mumbai attacks.

It sounds like chaos and it's still a breaking situation and may take days to figure out what exactly happened. It's 6AM in Mumbai now and there are still hostages and sieges and confusion spread out across a city with as many as 19 million people, gunfire... the Taj Hotel is on fire; 12 policemen are dead. No one knows what the "Decca Mujahideen" is and no one thinks that's who's really behind the attacks. Probably a Kashmiri liberation-oriented group.


It's just after 11am in Mumbai and it looks like there are more dead and less wounded than originally thought. There are still hostages in the Oberoi and the Taj and there are army troops in both hotels. Here's a live stream from CNN India for up to the minute news.

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